After the kids have flown

De­spite the abun­dance of tweets protest­ing the ex­pense and en­ergy in­volved in rais­ing th­ese lit­tle hu­mans, ev­ery par­ent tes­ti­fies to the tran­si­tory jolt that oc­curs when the house is fi­nally quiet”


Whenalka­mel­wani’son­ly­child, Sharon, re­turned to Dubai to con­tinue her stud­ies, the 56year- old could barely han­dle the in­ex­pli­ca­ble feel­ing of loss that fol­lowed. The fam­ily had lived in the UAE for about 20 years prior to their move to Bom­bay in 2008, and although Alka had been en­joy­ing the “peak” of her ca­reer at the time, she felt it would be good for her daugh­ter to re­turn to her roots in In­dia.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned, as Sharon ended up mov­ing back to Dubai for her Mas­ter’s (“Pune wasn’t her scene”), leav­ing Alka feel­ing in­cred­i­bly “empty”. Those were rough days, says the for­mer ca­reer woman. “I locked up her room for a long time… Only the maid en­tered it ev­ery now and then to clean and close it again. I couldn’t be­lieve I’d ended up in a place where I didn’t know any­one and with­out the per­son I’d come back for, in the first place. It was a lot of emo­tional up­heaval. Nine months is not long enough to set­tle down in In­dia, Although the empty nest syn­drome is not recog­nised As A clin­i­cal con­di­tion, its symp­toms can­not be ig­nored. if you’re newly child­free, there Are ways to keep de­pres­sion At bay

and find­ing my way around the place kept me busy, but the empti­ness [ of not hav­ing Sharon with me] ate me up.”

Psy­chol­o­gists recog­nise those symp­toms as typ­i­cal of the empty nest syn­drome — the feel­ing of grief and loss that par­ents ex­pe­ri­ence when all their chil­dren have flown the coop and their lives no longer re­volve en­tirely around at­tend­ing to those kids’ needs. De­spite the abun­dance of hu­mour col­umns and tweets protest­ing the ex­pense and en­ergy in­volved in rais­ing th­ese ‘ lit­tle mon­sters’ ( er, hu­mans), al­most ev­ery par­ent tes­ti­fies to the tran­si­tory jolt that oc­curs when the house is fi­nally quiet.

The re­sponses to deal­ing with be­ing newly child­free dif­fer from per­son to per­son too. In Alka’s case, she threw her­self into her new sur­round­ings, fix- ing up her house, trav­el­ling, and even cre­at­ing work if she didn’t have any, just so she’d be “su­per tired” enough to fall asleep as soon as she hit the pil­low at the end of the day. “I was try­ing to shut my mind from think­ing about any­thing,” she ad­mits. “My hus­band was con­stantly around. He coped in his own way; I took a lot longer. If he said he missed her once, I’d have said it ten times in the same minute. But he re­minded me that we made a de­ci­sion as a fam­ily and it was for the best.”

There’s not a day that doesn’t start and end with talk­ing to her daugh­ter now, says Alka. The cou­ple also found so­lace in vis­it­ing their daugh­ter on spe­cial oc­ca­sions — till Sharon sug­gested a busi­ness ven­ture to keep them even more con­nected. That’s how Kash Kou­ture, an In­dian ready- to- wear fash­ion brand, made its in­ter­na­tional de­but last year on Mother’s Day. The col­lab­o­ra­tion means that Alka and her hus­band are now in town ev­ery three months, help­ing to show­case col­lec­tions at var­i­ous ex­hi­bi­tions around town, and it’s cer­tainly made be­ing apart a lot eas­ier. “It’s still a bit of an emo­tional roller­coaster,” says Alka. “It al­ways takes me a cou­ple of days to get my bear­ings once I’m back in In­dia ( and when I do, she’s still not there) — but it helps to know I’ll be back with her in three months.”

Though she be­lieves she was too im­pul­sive in mov­ing back to In­dia, Alka says she un­der­stands the part she has to play now. “It would be self­ish of me to in­sist that she leave her life in Dubai and come back for me. You have to let your kids fol­low their dreams. You don’t want to be re­spon­si­ble for them not be­ing happy. Don’t get me wrong,” she adds. “I have ev­ery­thing here — good friends, a good base, good cli­mate, good doc­tors — it’s just one part of me

that’s miss­ing. But it was meant to be, so I’m learn­ing to ac­cept it, live for the mo­ment and carry on.”

A new child to love Stud­ies say the ef­fects of the empty nest syn­drome seem to be far more on stay- at- home par­ents, espe­cially mums. For home­maker Gayatri Har­i­ha­ran, her world re­volved around her two sons for more than 20 years. Then in 2012, her older son Ab­hishek de­cided to move to the States to pur­sue a Mas­ter’s de­gree in ro­bot­ics, while the younger fol­lowed the year after to do his post grad­u­a­tion in ad­ver­tis­ing. And that was quite a change.

“Sud­denly, I didn’t know what to do with all the ex­tra time on my hands,” re­calls the soft- spo­ken mum. She was proud of the boys and all that they were ac­com­plish­ing, but she was also hav­ing to grap­ple with a new sort of iden­tity — one that didn’t in­volve see­ing to her kids all the time. That’s when Zuma, the “gor­geous golden re­triever”, came into their lives.

“We are dog lovers,” says Gayatri. “But we were scep­ti­cal about get­ting one in this part of the world. Zuma sort of landed in our laps. Her fam­ily was mov­ing away and couldn’t take her with them. They rang the bell and… our hearts just melted when we saw her. I needed to have a child to take care of,” con­tin­ues the In­dian ex­pat. “And Zuma was just six months old at the time. She was so scared and timid at first, but she’s so full of joy now.”

The cou­ple’s lives re­volve around their “daugh­ter” th­ese days. “We sched­ule our day around her meal­times and walks. We can’t al­ways go on hol­i­days, be­cause we don’t like to leave her be­hind. Peo­ple laugh when I call her my daugh­ter, but we were miss­ing a daugh­ter in the fam­ily and she’s more than re­placed that void.”

Apart from grow­ing their fam­ily, Gayatri says she keeps busy by read­ing much more, try­ing to catch up with friends she hasn’t seen in years, at­tend­ing wed­dings and func­tions, and oth­er­wise dis­cov­er­ing her­self in her own way. “I’m quite happy,” she as­serts. “I’ve started look­ing at things dif­fer­ently. When you’re younger, you don’t re­ally think about how your chil­dren will move away from you some­day. But there is a time when you have to let go.”

Get­ting over that feel­ing comes with the con­fi­dence that they’re go­ing to be okay, she notes. “If you don’t al­low them to fly, you’re hold­ing back their growth. So, the key is to think pos­i­tively. Start a hobby: maybe blog­ging; you could even try a bit of so­cial work. I started do­ing a lit­tle gar­den­ing my­self — some toma­toes, chill­ies, flow­ers, etc. It’s a new life — but it’s a great chance to grow.” dads feel it too Tech­ni­cally, Ira­nian ex­pat Farahnaz Nouri has only had a taster of what the empty nest syn­drome feels like — but even that was tough. About six years ago, the fam­ily started mak­ing plans to im­mi­grate to Canada and sent their two boys ahead to be­gin their de­gree stud­ies, so they wouldn’t need to be up­rooted in the mid­dle of a course once visas came through. But the older one, Reza, now 25, re­turned after six months.

It was re­ally hard while they were both away though, says Farahnaz. “I’d look around the house but, of course, they weren’t there. I couldn’t see them, or talk to them any­time I wanted, like I used to. They felt re­ally far away and it got re­ally lonely.” It didn’t help that the time zones be­tween Dubai and Canada are vastly dif­fer­ent. “I used to wake up around 2 or 3am, just so I could mes­sage them or talk to them.”

Though her rou­tine didn’t change much after the boys left, the 43- year- old still set about try­ing to keep her­self oc­cu­pied. “I bus­ied my­self with friends, spent time with my hus­band in Iran, started study­ing again… I ac­tu­ally went ahead and com­pleted an MBA in strate­gic man­age­ment too.”

It helped a lot when one of the boys re­turned and set­tled back in Dubai, but Farahnaz counts the days till she can see the younger lad, Saeid, again. “It’s been about two years and 10 months since I last saw him. I dream of the day we can all have din­ner to­gether again… spend time as a fam­ily… I miss all of that.”

The gen­eral as­sump­tion i s that women feel the loss of their kids far more than men. “To be hon­est, I thought that was the case too,” she says. “But I re­alised it’s been harder for my hus­band than for me. He has a lot of busi­ness in Iran, so he’s con­stantly trav­el­ling, but he ac­tu­ally does miss them far more than me… Maybe it’s be­cause once they grew up, they could re­late to each other much more. I think he misses be­ing able to talk to them as much. Un­like me though, my hus­band doesn’t bother with time zones,” she laughs. “I’m al­ways cal­cu­lat­ing the time in Canada, won­der­ing whether he’s in class or sleep­ing. My hus­band will call him right up, when­ever he feels like a chat.”

Al­most six years on, the fam­ily’s visas have still not come through. “I un­der­stand that this is our life now,” says the mum- of- two. “Some things are not in our hands, and we can­not choose how life turns out. For now, tech­nol­ogy re­ally helps us stay in touch.” That’s one thing she says she no­ticed dur­ing her last trip to Canada: kids can get pretty lonely too be­ing so far away from home. Her ad­vice to par­ents: keep in touch as much as you can. It closes the dis­tance — to some ex­tent — on both sides.

karen@ khalee­j­times. com

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